While no civilian casualties are good, reports are now emerging that strongly question the number of civilian casualties in Gaza. The BBC's head of statistics highlighted that the figures presented are highly improbable. He explains that,
some of the conclusions being drawn from them may be premature.
and (remember this is the BBC's head of statistics)
Nonetheless, if the Israeli attacks have been "indiscriminate", as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women
With that, the Hamas's illusion begins to crack. The reality behind it is far uglier, and far more dangerous, than many have realised.
Far away from the Middle East there are two additional sets of victims, neither Israeli not Palestinian. The first are Jews, faced raising antisemitism. The second group of victims includes many of those spewing out antisemitism. They too are victims as they act against their values in aid of a greater purpose. Those who have fallen into this trap will explain the uniqueness of the current conflict, and reflect on the reported number of civilian casualties. Their call to arms, however, rests on a carefully manufactured illusion.
It seems, statistically speaking, that the high civilian casualty rate in Gaza is very likely concealing many Hamas combatants. This is no surprise as a similar situation occurred in Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009) when Hamas, at the time, claimed only 50 fighters were killed but later admitted to a figure of between 600 and 700 fighters, a figure almost identical to Israeli reports during the conflict.
The supposedly disproportionate civilian casualty rate has been used not only to justify and mobilise hostility to Israel, but also to defend outright antisemitism including comparisons to the Holocaust. How dare you raise the issue of antisemitism when so many people are being killed! One former Facebook friend wrote to me. If the number of civilian casualties is in fact similar to other conflicts, or proportionally less than other conflicts, when comparing the rate of civilian to combatant casualties, then a lot of people have been working off a false premise.
The reliance on a false premise led many to the conclusion that Israel deserved unique condemnation, and the issue deserved priority above all else on the international agenda. If the conflict was not exceptional, there was no basis for this special treatment.
As I write this, rockets have resumed and the IDF just announced they are about to take action to eliminate the threat. One Twitter user, with a free Palestine image, responded saying that another Nuremberg was waiting for Israel. This Holocaust analogy is a spectacularly bad analogy, and deliberately antisemitic. I've seen that Gaza Holocaust analogy repeated so many times is becoming a Big Lie. And therein lies the second crack in the Hamas illusion.
The antisemitic imagery used in this conflict is beyond anything we have seen before. It looks like a deliberate social media strategy of Hamas, and one that follows perfectly from the antisemitism in their mainstream media channels, including on children's TV shows like Tomorrow's Pioneers . When you realise Hamas has form for such media strategies, it's time to dig deeper.
The treatment of all casualties as civilians and the overt antisemitism, particular the comparison of Gaza to the Holocaust, are it now emerges, part of a coherent Hamas social media strategy. The strategy has been openly promoted to activists via official Hamas channels, in Arabic of course. MEMRI translated this guide in mid July, but it seems it didn't get enough attention.
Let's consider what we're seeing in light of two points taken from the guide:
Avoid entering into a political argument with a Westerner aimed at convincing him that the Holocaust is a lie and deceit; instead, equate it with Israel's crimes against Palestinian civilians"
"Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don't forget to always add 'innocent civilian' or 'innocent citizen' in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza."
Our cracks suddenly open into fissures, and ground on which Hamas's illusion rests should by all rights start to fall way. Both these point from the guide are being repeated time and time again in social media. Only some of that repetition is from hard core Hamas supporters who may have seen the guide. Much of it comes from people who have no idea about the ideology of Hamas, never mind Hamas's social media war strategy.
There is a technical term for those people who have been suckered in to support the Hamas social media strategy, and therefore Hamas more broadly, without their knowledge. That term is "useful idiots". Rich Lowry has written a great piece about the impact of these useful idiots, but missed the Hamas strategy to deliberately create more of them. I previously noted that Facebook was caught in a social media war, but I missed how antisemitism and the creation of useful idiots was part of this strategy.
In recent days I've explained the problem with the Holocaust analogy a number of times. Eventually I created a resource page to help others explain it. Some, including Muslims friends, quickly saw the problem. Others, anti-racism activists with no specific connection to the conflict, refused to see it. For them raising antisemitism was trying to dodge the issue of the casualties and the criticality of stopping Israel. Having not yet seen the fissures in the Hamas illusion, I felt I was staring down a rabbit hole. Comparisons between Israel and the Nazis are given explicitly as an example in the Working Definition of Antisemitism. It's not a matter of interpretation or debate, it's a matter of recognising what's right in front of you.
They way people around the world have been mislead as part of a deliberate Hamas run propaganda strategy is deserving of anger. The real civilian deaths, inevitable in any armed conflict, are still a tragedy, but to use support for human rights as part of a war strategy is morally reprehensible. We knew they were doing it with the living, now we see they are doing it with the dead as well. To promote Holocaust trivialization as part of a war strategy is also utterly reprehensible. Hamas advocates genocide of Jews in its charter, but how did anti-racists come to adopt this vile poison?
Those who have fallen for the Hamas propaganda strategy have fallen hard. Many have been told their comments are antisemitic, and reacted strongly against this. These people have been not only misled, but led to act entirely against their values. Hamas have turned anti-racism activists into tools promoting the agenda of genocide.
Many have dug themselves in deeply, defending their position and use of antisemitic language with reference to the "unique nature" of the current conflict. With that premise exposed as a deliberate illusion, a propaganda construction, they have a very bitter pill to swallow. Many will seek other ways to validate their actions, at least to themselves. In doing so many may fall further into the arguments of racism which not only Hamas, but antisemites of all flavours, are currently flooding across social media.
I don't have a solution, but unless people stop and take stock, Hamas may well achieve its real purpose, harm not to Israel, but to harm Jewish people around the globe. The rise in antisemitism is a key outcome of this war, and it seems it is far from an accident.
Dr Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) and an expert in online public diplomacy and social media. OHPI's guide on reporting antisemitism on Facebook was released earlier today.